Leafs, Senators can fill half their seats under new COVID-19 rules

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, makes a statement explaining the province’s easing restrictions on capacity limits for indoor and outdoor settings where proof of vaccination is required.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators will be able to open their rinks to 50 per cent capacity after the Ontario government increased limits for crowds on Friday.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said indoor venues can now increase capacity to 50 per cent or 10,000 people -- whichever is less.

Previously, Ontario's COVID-19 rules allowed for a maximum of 1,000 people indoors.

Noting almost 80 per cent of eligible Ontarians are fully vaccinated, Ontario chief medical officer Moore says ``we are able to recommend cautiously easing capacity limits in certain settings.''

``Increasing capacity limits does not mean we can let our guard down,'' Moore added. ``We must remain cautious and humble in the face of this Delta variant. Although several of our key indicators are stable and our vaccination rates are among the highest in the world, we must all remain vigilant and continue following the Public Health measures and advice."

The Leafs will get their attendance boost for their pre-season opener on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena. The Senators' first home pre-season game is Wednesday against Toronto.

When the Leafs and Canadiens last met -- a Game 7 first-round playoff loss for the Leafs on May 31 -- there were some 550 fully vaccinated health-care workers in the stands.

``MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) remains fully supportive of the province's process to allow a safe return to full operations for all businesses, including games, concerts and other public events, with the mandatory vaccination policy and this progressive approach to returning to full capacities in venues,'' MLSE president and CEO Michael Friisdahl said in a statement.

``Based on today's direction, we have adjusted our operations plan to accommodate 50 per cent of the venue capacity beginning with Saturday's first Maple Leafs pre-season game, and we will continue to work closely with the province to provide the safest environment within our venues to allow for a return to full capacity for the start of the Maple Leafs and Raptors regular seasons.''

The last time Scotiabank Arena was filled to capacity was March 10, 2020, when 19,124 saw the Leafs edge the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1. The pandemic prompted leagues to ground to a halt soon after.

As previously announced, MLSE requires all spectators and employees to provide proof of full vaccination along with government-issued ID for both its indoor and outdoor events, which includes Scotiabank Arena, BMO Field and Coca-Cola Coliseum. Proof of a negative COVID-19 test will not be accepted for admittance except for guests with a verified medical exemption.

Children 11 or younger are exempt from these requirements.

The Leafs and Senators have previously said they are anticipating full capacity for the 2021-22 season. The first NHL pre-season game in Ontario is Saturday night when the Leafs host the Montreal Canadiens.

In a memo sent to teams by the NHL this week, the league said it expects full capacity in all arenas except Vancouver's Rogers Arena (50 per cent capacity) and Montreal's Bell Centre (33 per cent) this season.

No fans were allowed in Canadian venues during the regular season last year.

The same Ontario rules would apply to the Toronto Raptors if there are no changes before their pre-season opener on Oct. 4.

The Ontario Hockey League said the league's 17 Ontario-based teams will be expanding to 50 per cent capacity, starting with Saturday's pre-season games.

Capacity will increase to up to 75 per cent capacity or 30,000 people, whichever is less, for outdoor seated events.

The Toronto Blue Jays now say they can have 30,000 fans. Toronto FC said capacity for their MLS games at BMO Field will rise from 15,000 to 21,000, while the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats are increasing capacity to 75 per cent at Tim Hortons Field, or 18,000 fans.

-- with files from The Canadian Press.

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